A sailor watches over Dalkey Island from his perch on Nerano Road. He is not an actual sailor, but a cast iron statue of a Royal Navy officer. This colourful figure is known locally as the Nerano Sailor, or Metal Man. He has a fascinating story to tell, but a lot of hard facts are still shrouded in mystery.
Ireland has two other Metal Men. One is located near Tramore, Co. Waterford, while another guards the mouth of Sligo harbour at Rosses Point, Co. Sligo. Another was reputed to have been sent to Sydney, Australia, but cannot be located and rumoured to be lurking at the bottom of the ocean.
The Metal Men are decorative but primarily navigational aids. Like the construction of Dún Laoghaire harbour itself, they were commissioned in response to tragedy.
In 1816, the HMS Seahorse sunk off Brownstown Head in Waterford resulting in the loss of 360 lives. Consequently, four Metal Men were designed by sculptor Thomas Kirk in 1821, who was also responsible for the statue of Horatio Nelson perched on top of Nelson’s Pillar on O’Connell Street and famously blown up in 1966, and the four female figures representing divinity, science, medicine and law on the Campanile in Trinity College Dublin.
There are numerous myths and legends about the Metal Men. It is said that during storms they can be heard calling “Keep out! Keep out! Good ships from me, for I am the rock of misery!” Early 20th century photographs and postcards refer to a tradition where unmarried girls would hop around the base of the tower in Waterford three times so they will find a husband within a year.
Dalkey’s Metal Man resides on the ground of Nerano House. According to the Irish Times in 2014, Nerano House is a fine Georgian dwelling that was built in the 1820s for the McAnaspie family as their summer residence.
“Their principal home was at Great Brunswick Street (now Pearse Street) where they operated what they called a figure and ornamental plaster business”, writes Elizabeth Birdthistle. “The term used in James Joyce’s Ulysses ‘Ditto McAnaspie’, refers to them and means ‘the same again’ in pub parlance. An eight foot figure of a sailor stands tall on the grounds of Nerano, and is a landmark used by seafarers. It is unclear whether the McAnaspies’ intention was to guide passing sailors or simply promote their plaster business.”
The Tramore and Rosses Point Metal Men are identical twins, but the Dalkey Metal Man is markedly different and not pointing at anything. Is it the identical twin of the Australian Metal Man? Apart from a few sketchy details, we don’t really know very much about the Nerano Road Metal Man at all.
Craft beer connoisseurs might be aware of the Metalman brewing company, which was founded in Waterford city in 2011. They brew a magnificent pale ale that used to be served on tap at the Magpie Inn in Dalkey village. It’s a wonderful tipple to wash down a few oysters after a swim at the Vico.
We’ll probably never get to know much more about these fascinating maritime beacons from a bygone age, but we can always admire the dapper Metal Men of Dalkey, Rosses Point, and Tramore.
Picture credit and hat tip: Pete’s Irish Lighthouses, a brilliant blog: http://irishlighthouses.blogspot.com/2014/07/nerrano-man-dalkey.html